Food photography, while being a specialized type of still life art form, has already formed its own following. From amateurs taking pictures of what they had for lunch to award-winning photographers celebrating a collection of cultures, food photography has us engaged.
The art of food photography is a precise one as well, requiring understanding of spacing, distance, color, and focus. Today we’ll take a look at tips and tricks to make your food appear to be the best that money can buy.
Professional photographers use expensive digital backs on equally expensive cameras, but the barrier for entry isn’t that high. All you’ll need is a DSLR or an advanced point-and-shoot that will let you make adjustments to your shots.
The most important characteristic of your camera is the ability to tweak is settings, instead of relying on automatic modes. For DSLRs, interchangeable lenses are a must for taking photographs of different subjects. Tripods are also essential, to keep your shots steady.
Optional tools include lamp stands for external lighting, as well as lens shades to control the light. Don’t forget the accessories to complement your food, like bowls, napkins, silverware, and flowers.
2. Camera Settings
We touched upon this in the last section, but for food photography it’s essential that your camera has the ability to manually change the settings. It’s the only way you can focus on the minute details of the food, and highlight the features that you want to emphasize.
Take note of your aperture, which controls how much light will hit your sensor. A low aperture setting will let in more light, generally resulting in brighter photographs. Its partner, shutter speed, controls how long the shutter is open. You usually adjust both these settings in conjunction to compensate for changes in one setting with the other.
The third important setting is ISO, which controls your camera’s sensitivity to light. A higher ISO is used in darker scenes, but will result in a grainier photograph.
Having the right equipment and understanding the camera settings is nothing if you don’t know how to compose your shot. Food photographs are usually crisp and well lit, bringing out the texture of the food. Your goal is to feed your readers through their eyes, making them want to reach out to the photo and nab the food.
When composing, remember that the food itself shouldn’t be the only thing in the shot. The bowl or plate that holds the food (or even a napkin or a spoon) frames the subject in such a way that the accessories emphasize its presence. Avoid blank spaces and create a sense of movement in the image—crumbs, flakes, all in a natural position.
Natural lighting is always recommended for food shots. While your eyes (and brain) can adapt to any sort of light and reconcile what the food is supposed to look like, cameras aren’t at the same level and need all the help they can get.
Ample light source is one of the most critical elements of food photography—find your light source and compose around it. Do you use the light shafts streaming through the window or the increased light available coming in the doorway? Lighting brings out the natural color of the food, and this is very important in keeping your subjects appetizing and appealing.
Like in any mode of photography, angle is critical in bringing out the best in your subjects. This is particularly important in food photography, because the shots are so close up. Some foods are best shot from above, like grains and cereal (with bits outside the bowl to create dynamism). Others, meanwhile, are best shot from an angle, such as cakes with layers.
Angle comes after composition—you don’t want to be thinking about the silverware and the napkins when the food is ready to be shot.
Focus changes the primary elements of your shot. You wouldn’t want the fork to be the subject that is highlighted in your picture of a cake, after all.
Focus is a result of the different settings and techniques working together, and is also influenced by the camera’s distance to the subject. However, if your camera’s autofocus isn’t cutting it, you can also manually adjust this setting to focus on the subject you want. How deep or short will the depth of field be? Because food photography relies so much on macro, having an understanding of focus is important.
Of course, these tips all lead up to the shot itself. If you want to do more with the photo, you can always edit them after the fact. But if your photo isn’t good in the first place, there won’t be anything to touch up.
Food Photography Inspiration
Here are some amazing examples of food photography for your inspiration:
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